SLIFF 2006 Highlights

sliffI was worried my audience would file me away as a stereotypical young, white, weinerish male who is obsessed with Asian culture.




I was worried after writing my piece on the ten best films of 2005 that, in light of Asian films taking up 50% of the list, my audience would file me away as a stereotypical young, white, weinerish male who is obsessed with Asian culture, which I like to think I am not. However, after previewing the list of films showing at this year's St. Louis International Film Festival, the evidence is growing ever more damning.

ca_threetimesThat is to say that almost every film that I'm looking forward to this year (and also every film I've already seen and can wholeheartedly recommend) comes from an Asian country. What I think will go down as the biggest score of the '06 festival, Joon-ho Bong's The Host (Tivoli, 11/17, midnight), is from South Korea. I saw it in the Director's Fortnight at Cannes back in May, and it was one of the most universally agreed upon masterpieces of the festival and its myriad sidebars, at least by those who saw it (the DF sidebar isn't necessarily high priority for those with tighter Cannes schedules than my own), garnering comparisons to films as classic as Alien. Also, there's Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times (Plaza Frontenac, 11/14, 6:30 p.m.), which may at first seem like a weird inclusion in the festival, as it was released on DVD a few weeks back, except that it is an absolutely brilliant film (it will be in the running for my favorite film of 2006) that has never shown theatrically in St. Louis.

Going down the list, there's Citizen Dog (Tivoli, 11/17, 7:15 p.m. and 11/19, 1:30 p.m.), the Thai answer to Amelie from Wisit Sasanatieng, director of the brilliant, little-seen (at least in America, because Miramax bought the rights but then never released it) Tears of the Black Tiger. Another favorite of mine from Cannes this year was the Chinese censor-baiting Summer Palace (Plaza Frontenac, 11/14, 9:15 p.m.), which is a politically charged and ethereal film about two students who are maybe in love and definitely having lots of sex. There was much talk at Cannes about how the Chinese government would likely quash the film's release, so I'm interested in seeing if the version showing at SLIFF is censored at all.

While I haven't yet seen it and could feasibly be proven wrong, Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Invisible Waves (Plaza Frontenac, 11/12, 9:30 p.m.) is a relatively sure thing. Ratanaruang was last seen with 2003's Last Life in the Universe, a film that was shot by my favorite living cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, and even had a role for the Japanese auteur of depravity, Takashi Miike. Doyle's back on board for Waves, so even if the movie's no good (and I have no reason to believe it will be), at least we can collectively turn our brains off and schmooze to Doyle's peerless camerawork.

Just so that you don't think I'm only capable of talking about Asian films, there are some non-Asian films that are worth your time, too, of course. For example, I took a road trip up to Champaign a few months back to catch the director's cut of Bad Santa at Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival, thinking that I may not get a chance to see Zwigoff's original vision for the film again. As it turns out, the director's cut was released to DVD a few weeks ago, and it is screening at SLIFF (Tivoli, 11/11, 7 p.m.). Even more interesting is that Zwigoff, one of my favorite modern filmmakers (he made Crumb, for fuck's sake – he should be knighted for that reason alone), is going to attend the screening, and even do a signing at Star Clipper at 4 p.m., a few hours before the film screens.

In addition to Zwigoff, both Les Blank and Albert Maysles(right) are coming to town for tributes. The film that I'm most excited about seeing in the festival that I haven't already seen isn't a finished film at all, but instead the unfinished footage that Maysles shot of The Gates (St. Louis Art Museum, 11/17, 7 p.m.), his upcoming documentary on Christo andmayles Jeanne-Claude's installation in Central Park in 2005. Maysles (alongside longtime collaborators David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, and a host of others) have made a series of brilliant films on Christo and Jeanne-Claude's work over the years (which were released a couple of years back in a wonderful box set from Plexifilm), and I'm absolutely giddy to see footage from his latest feat. Blank is best known for directing the documentary Burden of Dreams, which chronicled Werner Herzog's making of the film Fitzcarraldo, which the Criterion Collection just released in a great package a few months back. In addition to the tribute to Blank (Webster University, 11/18, 7 p.m.), the festival is also having a screening of his great 1978 film on New Orleans, Always for Pleasure (Webster University, 11/19, 6 p.m.). It's funny to think that there might actually be some people who are tired of seeing genius documentarians speak by the time the festival is over.

As a somewhat handy companion to Blank's attending the festival (or at least easy segue when writing a piece such as this one) is the closing night screening of Herzog's new fiction film, Rescue Dawn (Tivoli, 11/19, 7 p.m.), which stars Christian Bale and Steve Zahn, the latter of whom I've been dying to see in a good role ever since 1998's Out of Sight. Pushing through to the second tier of great or potentially great films showing at this year's festival is the new Terry Gilliam, Tideland (Tivoli, 11/15, 9:30 p.m.), local boy Brian Jun's locally shot Sundance hit Steel City (Tivoli, 11/10, 7:15 p.m.), the Brothers Quay's (Institute Benjamenta) new feature film The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (Tivoli, 11/14, 9:30 p.m.), a screwy Hungarian animated film called The District (Tivoli, 11/18, 9:30 p.m.), Nuri Bilge Ceylan's (Distant) Climates (Plaza Frontenac, 11/18, 5 p.m.), the Heath Ledger-starring Australian film (which costars up-and-comer Abbie Cornish) Candy (Tivoli, 11/17, 9:30 p.m.), Fuck, a documentary about the word of the title (Tivoli, 11/13, 9:45 PM), and the Kevin Smith-produced documentary Small Town Gay Bar, which, like Fuck, is exactly on the topic the title implies (Tivoli, 11/16, 9:45 p.m.). It's going to be a busy 11 days. | Pete Timmermann

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